My cat likes to have her ears pulled. Her eyes narrow, and she arches her neck with pleasure as she awaits the next gentle tug. This feline resists being picked up, but curls into the crook of my arm when I am propped up in bed reading. She nudges, seeking my touch, and the pressure of her warm purring body is a sweet reminder of the relaxed heft of a sleeping baby.
Some months after my husband, Len, died, one of my younger friends took on the role of the caring daughter and gave me an unusual gift: a massage by a therapist she admired. When I told her this was something I’d never done before, she said, “Everyone needs to be touched, and you’re alone now.”
I went, and continue to go every now and then, welcoming this time of complete ease and pleasure. The therapist always begins by massaging my feet, and though I only spoke this thought aloud after many months, whenever her skilled fingers knead these muscles, I wish I had done this for Len, especially in his last six months when he was in bed more hours than usual. For this man whose feet were almost always on the go, it would have been a special way to express the sweetness of old love.
It is easier to write of my cat and a masseuse than of the sensual pleasures of my marriage, but there is a point in doing so. For us, the promise of touch was ever present. The gentle pressure of my fingers on the back of his neck as he drove, his hands easing my tensed shoulders as I sat at my desk, holding hands in the movies or nestled together when watching TV—intimate touching renewed our appetite for life.
Now that I’m alone, though engaged with others during the day, my patterns and pleasures have changed. I enjoy my solitude, but it differs from a past shared with another. Evenings, I no longer watch programs or movies that I suspect will cause me to feel anxious. When we watched the news together, leaning into each other, no matter how fraught the coverage, I was safe, moored. Now I check the Internet for newsworthy events the next morning, in the light of day.
On Sundays I often reread old letters. His words and his handwriting almost feel like a touch, a lingering memory of the pleasures we shared, which can quite take my breath away. Then I close that door and reenter the present with a sigh but no anguish, knowing I can return.
Comfort with touch is tied to family history. Mine was a family in which physical affection was open and easy. Len’s family was just the opposite—casual touching was rare, foreign, even uncomfortable. When he and I were first together, seeking physical closeness, I consistently walked him off the sidewalk onto the grassy verge. It was a lasting joke between us that spoke volumes. I eventually converted him.
Lest this become a maudlin description of an idealized marriage, I also well remember the hours, sometimes days, when we didn’t touch, lay back to back and distant in bed, or silently left the house for a solitary walk. But being deprived of touch inevitably brought us to talking, so much was it the glue of our marriage.
So why write of this? The importance of touch is well established. Infants need it to thrive, and now studies are proving the same is true for adults. Breaching the chasm of being alone in one’s skin, and experiencing or giving pleasure, can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and improve immune function.
So, a reminder for those with a loving partner at their fingertips: massage their feet.
26 thoughts on “The Pleasure of Touch”
Another great one!!!
I do so appreciate your positive response. I’m working on putting together a book of essays and there are days when it feels like a fool’s errand. I will continue!
Beautiful essay, so true. Your thoughts and words touched me so.
My dear friend, we will urge each other forward. Thank you.
Dear Bea, This was at once wistful, warm-hearted, and wise. And of course, (to continue the alliteration) it was wonderfully well written. Thank you!
~~Yours, Chuck Strain 4030 Mt. Carmel-Tobasco Road #103 Cincinnati, Ohio 45255-3454 USA 24-Hour Phone 513-621-2889 Fax 513-828-6652 Email DUIguy1@yahoo.com Web http://www.DUIguy.us
What a pleasure to receive your alliteration! Hope to see you soon again, Bea
Great article and so true. Hope you are well old friend.
I send you the very same thought, hoping you are well, and fondly remembering the days of working with you, the consummate professional. Bea
Bea: Thank you for your recent post — very honest, thoughtful and, dare I say, touching! Very much to be taken to heart. R/John West
Hello, John. Always pleased to hear from you. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am giving some thought to writing an article for the CBA Report about the life of our friend, Jack. What do you think? Bea
A wonderful idea and I urge you to do it. Jack had an eventful career as a lawyer and judge, and affected the lives of many people. He always radiated good will to all. I miss seeing him. We always had a great time together.
It is good to have your support of this idea. i will keep you posted. B
Very touching! (pun intended). Really touching—no pun now.
Book almost done? Regards—
PS: touching is especially meaningful to me right now, as my warm/fuzzy 16-year old doggie won’t live much longer.
Thank you, friend. Well, the introduction is finished. Want to see it?
Some wise person said that proof of our hope for a better future is made evident by our repeated willingness to love a new pet knowing that we will likely outlive it. I’ve said goodbye to many loved animals and now delight in the presence of my latest cat, Eleanor. Can you guess who she is named after?
Bea – I love this one. I have always craved foot rubs. My sister and I when together often find ourselves stretched out on opposite ends of the couch gently rubbing each other’s feet while we catch up. I also get a regular massage due to an old back injury. I always request the feet, and I can almost literally feel my blood pressure drop and a feeling of calmness come over me as soon as she starts. It’s absolute heaven. Must be something indeed to what you say here about touch. Your piece touched me!
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You paint such a vivid picture, Beth. You bring to mind the times I yearned to have a sister. Only brothers. Not to disparage them, but it is not quite the same. So, massages will have to do. I am so pleased you wrote. Bea
This is wonderful, Bea! Thank you! Best. John
*John P. Tafaro*
20918 State Route 251
St. Martin, OH 45118
Thank you, John. What a boost, and so good to hear from you. I hope you and your wonderful college are thriving.
Fyi: I saw Todd this morning: he’s doing very well!
beautifully written, as always, Bea.
This was a beautiful essay and I’ve been thinking about it since I read it. Thank you.
Ellen, what a pleasure to receive this response. B
Perhaps touch is our very first language.
Looking forward to your book.
Thank you, Susan. More than once you have kept me on track. Now my head is nodding, up and down. Bea
Bea- thank you for continuing to provide commentary and insights in this new blog format. This one was very sweet.
How pleased I am to receive your encouraging words.